(Photo Courtesy of Penn State Athletics)
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have altered their football and fall sports schedules to conference-only this season due to concerns over the Coronavirus outbreak. In addition, the Ivy League, Patriot League, and multiple individual schools have cancelled fall sports altogether.
College lacrosse usually gets underway on February 1st, which is 202 days (seven months) away at the time of writing this. And while spring sports hopefully won’t be impacted by this virus for the second season in a row, there is a slight chance that they could be. But a decision concerning the spring won’t likely come until winter.
And if things do come to that, conferences will likely make the same decision they make about fall sports and go conference-only for the 2021 spring season. That decision would certainly impact lacrosse, and some programs would be much more heavily impacted than others.
First off, a conference-only schedule would look different for each conference. In the ACC, for example, which only has five teams, they could put a schedule in place where every team has to play every other team twice – once at home and once on the road. That would leave each team with eight games. It would also allow time and flexibility in case a player does test positive and a team, or teams, need to move upcoming games back a week or two. Also, a conference-only schedule would allow the season to be pushed back a few weeks if needed.
Every other conference has at least six teams, so they would be able to put in place similar schedules where every team plays each other once or twice and it would come out to each team having played around eight or nine games. It would be pretty simple and easy for every conference to execute.
And if there are two or three conferences that chose not to go conference-only while everyone else does, then those conferences that chose not to could strike up a deal where their teams will play each other in non-conference games. That would likely allow those teams to have a pretty regular season.
One of the biggest questions around conferences going conference-only would is what would Cleveland State, Hampton, and Utah do? They are the only three independent teams in DI.
Cleveland State and Hampton could essentially strike up a deal with a conference that has a nearby team and join that league for a season. The MAAC makes the most sense for Cleveland State and the SoCon makes the most sense for Hampton. But is that even an option? If not, then those schools could be in some deep trouble.
Utah is the furthest west team in DI. The hurdles that they would have to jump through travel-wise if this virus is still ravaging in the spring will be massive. Not only will it risky for them and opposing teams to travel for games, but it will be costly, as usual. Utah could be stuck on an island. The only way they would be able to pull off anything like the aforementioned proposed situation with Cleveland State and Hampton would be getting an agreement with the Big East and SoCon, where teams that play Air Force or Denver on the road can play Utah a day or two later.
As far as the NCAA tournament goes, it is likely that things would remain pretty similar with an altered schedule. Conference champs, however they are crowned, would be automatic bids and the at-large bids could go through just like they do now. The only real adjustment that would need to be made if this virus is still around next May would be limiting attendance and health restrictions being put in place. And if we need those next May, then they would have likely been in place all season long as well.
With the college lacrosse season still seven months out, things will likely get better and none of these types of scenarios will need to be executed. But if things keep trending in a negative direction, the 2021 college lacrosse season could be one of the weirdest that we’ve ever seen.